Unit Plan: Rapunzel
- Oral language and Vocabulary: Introduction of the short story (Rapunzel). The teacher will write a short list of keywoards on the board. Students will write the words down and they will be asked at random to pronounce them and to state their meaning. The teacher will subsequently pronounce each word, explain its meaning, and use each in a sentence. The lesson’s evaluation will consist on asking students to write original sentences using each keyword.
- Phonics, word patterns and word analysis: The teacher will hand each student a worksheet to complete in class. It will consist of a new set of keywords (also found in the short story) hidden in a word scramble. The lesson’s evaluation will consist on finding all the words in the scramble correctly.
- Fluency: Copies of the short story will be required for all students. The teacher will ask students at random to read the story. Upon reaching sentences in which a keyword appears (out of the two lists created on the previous lessons), the teacher will ask students to stop and carefully reread the sentence where the keyword is, pausing before slowly and articulately pronouncing each keyword. The lesson will end with the teacher asking each student to pronounce one of the keywords covered and explain its meaning.
- Reading Comprehension: The entire short story will be read by students themselves. After reading it for the second time, the students will receive a second worksheet for them to complete. The worksheet will contain a plot diagram, which they should fill out to demonstrate comprehension (this will be the lesson’s assessment).
- Writing (Friday): The teacher will hand out the third worksheet to the students. It will contain a pool of keywords (out of the ones already studied). The students will have 15 minutes to write whatever story they wish, but they are to use all of the keywords given.
In conducting my observations on how a Language Arts Unit was taught I joined a fifth grade reading classroom. That week the class was working on a short story written in 1906 by William Sydney Porter. The short story was titled The Gift of the Magi and at the beginning of the first lesson the teacher dedicated most of his time to introducing the short story, its author and general background information that he felt was required for the students to be able to understand the short story upon reading it. After having introduced the novel the teacher started writing down a list of words on the board. He asked students at random to pronounce each word and asked if he/she knew what each meant. Having done this, the teacher asked his students to write the words down and he immediately started defining each one. After defining all of the words he asked the students to take out a piece of paper and write original sentences using each of the words given. On the second day the teacher gave the students a work sheet. It contained a word puzzle that was created using the same words that he had defined for students the previous day.
On the third lesson the reading of the short story began. Students were asked to read and throughout the lesson the teacher would make pauses, give some additional explanations on specific words, and then continue with reading. At the end of the reading exercise the students were asked to write down five words they had not understood and to turn the papers in. The fourth lesson was spent completing a plot diagram. The teacher gave the students 15 minutes to complete it, after which time he collected everyone’s work and dedicated the remainder of the lesson to creating a plot diagram of his own to explain the story in the more detailed way to students. On Friday the teacher wrapped up the story and handed out worksheets. A list of 20 words was on the sheet, and the assignment was for the students to spend the entire class writing up a short story of their own using each of those words at least once.
My Unit’s lessons
I must admit that the Unit Plan I witnessed during my observations heavily influenced my own Unit Plan. I realized that I could not make the same demands on the class I hoped to teach (a class of third graders), but I was convinced that the teacher’s Unit Plan had been thorough and that it managed to deliver on all of the desired objectives (oral language and vocabulary; phonics, word patterns, and word analysis; fluency; reading comprehension; writing). I therefore decided to emulate the teacher’s Unit Plan, but making sure to modify it and make it more basic, more elemental. This is why I did not go into a heavy explanation of the social, economic, political and cultural context in which the short story I chose was written (like the fifth grade teacher did). I also decided on the first lesson to give sentence examples to the students using each keyword in order to facilitate their understanding and their assessment.
On the lesson two I thought it would be more appropriate for my third grade students to work with a word scramble (as opposed to a crossword puzzle). During lesson three I refrained from issuing additional explanations for each highlighted keyword, as I was more interested in making sure that they understood what the pronunciation was, so that they could pronounce them correctly and read through the story fluently. On the lesson four I decided to give the students a worksheet containing the plot diagram in order to make sure that every student knew exactly what to do (instead of simply asking them to create one without telling them what parts it had, for instance). Finally, on the last lesson I decided on issuing a shorter and simpler writing assignment because I was aware that third graders lack the knowledge and skill of the fifth graders. The fundamental objective, however, was still being achieved through this shortened assignment.
After having taught the Language Arts Unit I must confess that I was very pleased with the results. The students responded very well to the activities, and each of the objectives was fulfilled. The idea behind the unit’s lessons was to foment critical thinking and analysis in each of the students. I wanted for them to be able to engage any piece of literature, read through it, identify specific keywords (defining them, understanding them and learning how to use them) and understand the fundamental elements of that piece of literature (including the setting, the climax, the conflict, the plot’s major events, etc.).
Despite my satisfaction with the way that the unit went and the results it yielded, I still believe that there is room for future improvement. Future unit’s lessons could include more didactic, enticing activities for students (other than reading and completing a word scramble, for instance). I believe that the most significant weakness with the unit was that it failed to take into account the classroom’s environment. No bulletin board was prepared for the lesson (themed after Rapunzel), the keywords were not spread across the classroom in bright colors and no group activities (such as peer revision) were contemplated. This is something that I would certainly change in the future unit lesson preparations, especially when teaching younger students. Perhaps I was shortsighted because I failed to recognize that there are differences between the third graders and the fifth graders. Younger students are more active, they are more visual and hands-on than older students.
Finally, in talking about what I learned from my mentor teacher I must admit that I learned a lot more than I initially expected. Thanks to sitting in my mentor teacher’s reading classroom I was able to learn about preparing a structured, integrated unit lesson. I used to think that the only way of preparing an integrated lesson was through repetition (repeating the same type of activities in order for students to understand and learn). Fortunately, I came to realize that the unit lesson may include several different activities just as long they all contribute to achieving the lesson’s objectives.